7 tips for getting back to work after a career break

4 min | 29 August 2023

The Chase team

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a few years, the thought of returning could feel daunting. Where do you start? From updating your skills and CV to prepping for interviews, there are practical steps you can take to help you on your way back to work.

A career break can happen for lots of reasons, like redundancy, a study break, travel, moving abroad, or caring for children and elderly parents if you’re in the sandwich generation.

While you were away, the industry you left might have evolved – which means your skills will need updating. And then there’s the issue of potential employers – how will they feel about hiring someone who hasn’t worked for a while?

The good news is that some companies offer career returner programmes that encourage people to apply if they’ve had a break. Remember that employers are often keen to hire people with experience, and your career gap might not matter as much as you think. Here are seven ways to help restart your career:

1. Sharpen your skills

Check online or at your community college to update your skills, whether it’s a course, workshop or training session. By getting some hands-on learning, not only will your knowledge increase but also your confidence will improve. In addition you’ll have something extra to add to your CV to show an employer you’re committed to developing your skills.

2. Update your CV and references

A career break can make you stand out from the crowd, so display it proudly on your CV, state the reasons behind it and show how you've updated your skills to get to this point. Include any volunteer or freelance work, which could highlight other things you’re good at – like the ability to work with different people, multitask and communicate effectively. Think about who could become a suitable up-to-date reference for you.

3. Keep an open mind

As you start looking for jobs, think about what sort of work is suitable for you, rather than going for the first thing that comes along. Your career goals could be quite different to what you were doing before your break. Do a bit of research into a company to find out more about its ambitions and latest developments. And be open to part-time, freelance or contract-based roles – they could ease you back into the workforce gradually, helping to build your confidence.

4. Career returner initiatives

If you’re certain about the sector you’d like to return to, research companies that offer career returner programs. These companies are more likely to help you to return to work, with the added benefit of tailored support and mentoring to help you acclimatise to being back in the workforce.

5. Network

Put the word out – whether it’s in person or via social media. Maybe former colleagues and clients, or friends and family, know a company that could be just right for you. Also think about attending job fairs and industry events to connect with people in the field you’re interested in.

6. Be confident

This one’s easier said than done, especially when you’ve not had an interview for years. But describing your career break – and remembering your strengths, achievements and skills when you get to the interview stage – should give you a much-needed boost. It will help to show the interviewer you’re enthusiastic, eager to get back to work and willing to take on new challenges.

7. Do your interview prep

In addition to being able to talk about your work experience before your career break, take some time to practise the story of your career break – why you took one and what you did, and the ways it developed your skills and experience. Prepare to be asked whether you’re at a disadvantage because of your time out – by describing how you’re better focused and energised. And think about the answers to questions about the role you’re applying for. There’s lots of information online on competency-based interview questions and how to prep for them.

Jumping back into the workplace after a career break can raise hurdles as well as opportunities. With some research, a plan, a positive attitude and some preparation, you can hopefully increase your chances of getting there.

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